One of the latest trends in running shoes involves, well, no shoes at all. Barefoot running—the practice of going without footwear on nearly any surface and in any weather — is booming. Clubs of like-minded souls (er, soles?) have popped up in Boulder, Austin and New York, with proponents touting the barefoot method as a way to strengthen the feet, reduce injury and get back to a more “natural” way of running.
David Sypniewski, creator of barefootrunner.com, discovered barefoot running in 2002 after struggling with a nagging hip and knee injury. “I was immediately fascinated by the concept,” says Sypniewski, who runs barefoot at least an hour per week. “It seemed like the more ‘stuff’ we put on our feet, the more problems occur.” Sypniewski, who has been injury free since he began running barefoot eight years ago, was so inspired with his own experience that he created his own minimalist shoe company, Skora, to share the benefits with other runners. Like other shoe companies that are part of the barefoot running movement such as Nike, Vibram and Newton, Skora will offer minimalist running shoes that allow your feet to move naturally while protecting them from dirt and debris.
But running barefoot isn’t for everyone, cautions podiatrist Dr. Michael Nirenberg. The best candidates for going without shoes are fit runners with a medium arch who aren’t diabetic and don’t have hammertoes, bunions or other bone problems, he says. And even with perfect feet, there’s always the risk of cuts, scrapes and punctures from running outdoors without shoes. If you want to try it out, start slowly — before you start running, walk around barefoot at home or at the park to begin strengthening the muscles in your ankles and feet. For more details and a beginners guide for getting started, go to therunningbarefoot.com.